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College Basketball: Duke 79, Kent State 72

By Nick Bowton

Salisbury Post

DURHAM — Mike Krzyzewski really, really, really doesn’t like Duke opponents getting open looks. Giving an open look, Krzyzewski says, is like your defense dying.

Duke played dead for about 30 minutes Tuesday night, but the sixth-ranked Blue Devils had one of their best offensive games of the season and regained their defensive form in time to secure a 79-72 victory against visiting Kent State.

Led by Josh McRoberts’ career-high 19 points, Duke had four players score in double figures to counter a career-high 33 points by Kent State senior Omni Smith.

“Our program has been built because I am a defensive coach,” said Krzyzewski, whose Blue Devils have now won 49 consecutive nonconference games at home. “I’ve been here 27 years, and every play that’s played at Duke University, I’m passionate about playing defense. That’s what I require my team to do. That was missing today.

“We hardly ever give open looks. I don’t like open looks. You cannot give an open look.”

When you do, guys like Smith knock down open 3-pointers from the corner. And then they do it again.

Then it’s halftime, and you’re ahead only 39-38 and are allowing your opponent to shoot 51.7 percent from the floor. Duke came in allowing an average of just 51.6 points per game and 37.0 percent shooting.

“The score said they were scoring against us,” Krzyzewski said. “They weren’t scoring against us. They were scoring against individual players. That’s how we played defense today until the last 10 minutes — individually instead of collectively.

“That’s really the first time all season that that’s happened.”

Something else happened, too. The Blue Devils started clicking offensively.

The Golden Flashes (5-4) traded baskets with Duke (10-1) over the first three minutes of the second half and got their second lead of the game when a Smith 3-pointer from the left wing made it 49-47 with 16:03 remaining. They pushed that lead to 55-52 with 10 minutes left.

Then Duke junior DeMarcus Nelson (18 points) hit a long jumper from the top of the key — a shot that sparked a 15-2 run.

While seizing momentum for the first time since a game-opening 16-4 spurt, the Blue Devils started playing Krzyzewski’s brand of defense, and McRoberts began to look the the dominating post presence he can be.

“We play in the MAC; we don’t see guys like that,” Kent State coach Jim Christian said. “He’s backing guys down, he’s firing passes, he’s scoring in the post. He’s an all-american, and he played like it.”

He did so in a variety of ways. Besides his career-high points total, McRoberts finished with six rebounds, six blocks, four assists and four steals.

Krzyzewski said one play in particular rejuvenated the Blue Devils. McRoberts grabbed a defensive rebound, brought the ball up the court, saw an opening and drove to the basket. He was fouled and made just one of his two free-throw attempts, but the play, Krzyzewski said, showed Kent State that Duke had a great “will to win.”

“He can do that,” said Duke point guard Greg Paulus, who had 12 points and five assists. “He’s so gifted and talented. He’s the guy that we look to. He does play within the offense; it’s so easy to play with him.

“But he also can fill up a stat sheet.”

Duke needed him to last night, when Smith went 14-of-20 from the floor and the Golden Flashes shot 50.8 percent for the game.

Kent State did as well as it did in part because of those open looks.

“There has to be an amazing sense of urgency,” Krzyzewski said. “It’s like you’re gonna die. Basically, your defense is dying when you give up open looks.

“That’s who we’ve been here. And we weren’t that way for about 30 minutes.”

They were for 10, and that was good enough to win.

*

NOTES: Duke freshman Jon Scheyer played a career-high 39 minutes and scored 15 of his 17 points in the first half. Scheyer scored 10 straight points for the Blue Devils in the first four minutes of the game. … Duke’s point total was its second-highest of the season. The Blue Devils scored 86 in their season-opener against Columbia. Duke’s defensive showing was its second-worst of the season, as it gave up more points only in a 73-62 loss to Marquette.

*

Contact Nick Bowton at 704-797-4256 or nbowton@salisburypost.com.

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